By Dr. Tahir Rauf:
Pakistan’s constitution pledges the “state should provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age five to sixteen years”. The parliament enacted the 18th amendment, and article 25A to the constitution declaring education as the fundamental right to children of 5 to16 year of age. The Prime Minister promised free and compulsory, “one education for all”. The idea behind the promise is seen in terms of public goods argument to provide educational opportunities to all Pakistani children. However, the 18th amendment decentralized the entire education system including the curriculum and syllabus. The standards of education turned into the responsibility of four provinces, and districts administration.
The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2011 (Pakistan) surveyed 84 rural and 3 urban school districts of Karachi, Lahore, and Peshawar. The report indicates Pakistan’s education system is a dismal picture painted by two major challenges. First, there is a significant difference in access to education to the masses. In addition, its quality is impaired by learning achievements of the children. Since the income and wealth disparities have sharply increased over the last decades, there are concurrent fragmentations in education. The increasing range of private schools and neglect of the public education systems creates a disparity between high and low quality education, which is growing gradually.
The ASER 2011 indicates a contrast between public and private school children’s achievement scores. For example, 5th grade urban districts student in private schools are two to three fold better in reading sentences in English, and arithmetic skills in division or subtraction than their counterparts in public schools. Private school students are better off at reading a story in Urdu even though medium of instruction is often in English. Overall, numeracy and literacy skills in Urdu and English vary significantly across various divides. The gap in knowledge shows that civic values learned by children in both public and private schools are different.
The total public expenditures on education as percentage of total expenditure were 11.2%, which was 2.09% of the GDP. There are 67% public schools and 33% private schools. Of the Pakistan’s population, 36% are between 0-14 years. Pakistan contains the highest number of out-of-school children 7.3 million. It is quite difficult to reach those inaccessible children for educational opportunities because of the complex nature of inequalities with gender differences, ethnicity, wealth and their living conditions (ASER 2011). However, poverty is another hurdle that 61% of the total population suffer to live less than $2 a day, and about 17.6% of children contributes (child labor) toward daily food for the family.
More than 20 million students study in public schools where there is inadequate water supply, sanitation, electricity and lack in other basic facilities. The blackboards, textbooks, desks, chairs and even teachers are in short supply. Many public school students lack in basic skill sets necessary to participate in economic development. Failing public education has opened a room for radicalization.
Pakistani education system is highly polarized along the lines of socio economic class, geography, cost, syllabi, curricula, gender, and the medium of instructions; the vernacular for public school students come from working and lower middle class. The children from the upper middle class and ruling elite families often study at private English medium schools. Madrasa caters to poorest marginalized people, creating an intolerant product. Students who attend public schools are at a serve disadvantage when they enter the job market compare to their peer who had attended expensive, elite private schools where curriculum is up-to-date, and emphasis on skill development.
The U.S. Aid assistance and other donor agencies packages to Pakistan’s education sector in previous decades appear to have a complete waste. The Aid programs never brought visible results.
Since the Pakistani government alone cannot carry burden of whole education process, the National Education Policy (1998-2010) encourages private investment in the education. Public policy includes special incentives to the private sector in the form of income tax rebate, reserved price land for educational facilities, and discounted rates of electricity.
The private schools have been growing in earnest offering relative quality but unaffordable tuition to the people. Around one-third of Pakistan’s 33 million students attend a range of about 58,000 private schools, far more than the 1.6 million in the 12,000-madrasa schools, about 5% of the total enrollment, and their curriculum remains unregulated by the government.
Although fees structure of private sector educational institutions is determined in consultation with the government, even though fees and other education cost of profit driven institutions are high and out of reach of the poor. The cost of education in private schools is forcing some households to choose which child to send to which school, usually based on gender.
Nonetheless, the public school system is the main institution in a society responsible for transmitting a common culture to a diverse population. If the children from different backgrounds share common education, class conflict would disappear and people would interact with greater civility.
The public education reflects a commitment by the government to the people of Pakistan. Public education evolved into an extraordinary resource for all citizens, rich and poor, from all ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds, and from all social classes. That any citizen with intelligence and determination could benefit from an advanced education. Providing education for children of the poor and middle class would prepare them to obtain good jobs, which in turn would reduce disparities in wealth and strengthen the nation’s economic growth.
A common schooling, which brings all children together in the sense of mixing children of all kinds together in each school, facilitates the adoption of a common ends. Acquaintance and friendship increases, whereas fear and mutual suspicions reduce. Inter-generational tensions along with antisocial behavior are often recycled.
Indeed, a strong public education system is essential to the collective well-being of the citizenry. Pakistan must at least double its public expenditures on education with incremental increases in investment every year. This will eliminate not only differences between private and public education system but will create a fair healthy competition as seen in the USA, Canada or other European counties. The curriculum should focus on knowledge base and skill development instead of memorization. The Madrassa reforms and curriculum changes are equally important. The private-public partnership could be promoted in such a way that can bridge the quality gap and promote social cohesion among different classes of Pakistani society.